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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Deities Deposed
By Christoph Martin Wieland (1733–1813)
The Sixth of ‘The Dialogues of the Gods,’ Volume xxvii. of ‘Collected Works’: Translation of Richard Burton
  [The gods, while banqueting in Olympus, are startled by the tidings brought by Mercury, that they have been deposed as deities by the Romans. They talk it over in council, and Jupiter points out that their case admits of consolation.
  Characters—Jupiter, Juno, Apollo, Minerva, Venus, Bacchus, Vesta, Ceres, Victoria, Quirinus, Serapis, Momus, and Mercury.
  Jupiter and Juno, with the other dwellers in Olympus, sit in an open hall of the Olympus Palace, at divers great tables. Ganymede and Antinous serve nectar to the gods, Hebe to the goddesses. The Muses make table music, the Graces and the Hours dance pantomimic dances, and Jocus arouses the blessed gods to loud laughter from time to time by his caricatures and buffooneries. When the merriment is at its height, Mercury, in hot haste, comes flying in.]

JUPITER—You are late, my child, as you see. What news do you bring us from below there?  1
  Venus  [to Bacchus]—He appears to bring something unpleasant. How disturbed he looks!  2
  Mercury—The latest news I bring is not very much calculated to increase the jollity which I see reigning here.  3
  Jupiter—At all events, your manner isn’t, Mercury. What can have happened so bad as to have disturbed the gods in their joy?  4
  Quirinus—Has an earthquake overthrown the Capitol?  5
  Mercury—That would be a small matter.  6
  Ceres—Has a more violent eruption of Ætna devastated my beautiful Sicily?  7
  Bacchus—Or an untimely frost nipped the vineyards of the Campagna?  8
  Mercury—Trifles, trifles!  9
  Jupiter—Now out with your grievous story, then!  10
  Mercury—It is nothing more than—  [He pauses.]  11
  Jupiter—Don’t make me impatient, Hermes! What is nothing more than—?  12
  Mercury—Nothing, Jupiter, except that, upon a motion made by the Emperor in his own person in the Senate, you have been formally deposed by a decided majority.  13
[The gods all arise from the tables in great agitation.]
  Jupiter  [who alone remains seated, laughing]—Nothing but that? I have foreseen it for a long while.
  All the Gods  [together]—Jupiter deposed! Is it possible? Jupiter!  15
  Juno—You talk nonsense, Mercury. Æsculapius, feel of his pulse!  16
  The Gods—Jupiter deposed!  17
  Mercury—Just as I say: formally, and with solemnity, declared by a great majority of votes to be a man of straw— What do I say? A man of straw is something. Less than a man of straw, a mere nothing; robbed of your temple, your priests, your dignities as the highest protector of the Roman realm!  18
  Hercules—It’s a mad piece of news, Mercury; but as true as I am Hercules  [he swings his club], they shan’t have done it to me in vain!  19
  Jupiter—Be quiet, Hercules! So, then, has Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Capitolinus, Feretrius, Stator, Lapis, etc., played out his part?  20
  Mercury—Your statue is overthrown, and they are in the very act of destroying your temple. The same tragedy is being played in all the provinces and corners of the Roman kingdom. Everywhere hosts of goat-bearded brutes rush about with torches, battering-rams, hammers, hatchets, and axes, and in a fanatic rage lay waste the honored objects of the ancient faith of the folk.  21
  Serapis—Alas, what will happen to my stately temple at Alexandria and my splendid colossal statue! If the Theban desert belches forth only half of its holy hermit wood-devils, everything’s up.  22
  Momus—Oh, you don’t need to worry, Serapis. Who would undertake to lay hands on your image, when at Alexandria it is an understood thing that at the least despite offered it by an impious hand, heaven and earth would fall in fragments, and all nature sink back into old chaos?  23
  Quirinus—But one can’t always depend upon stories of that kind, my good Serapis. It might happen with you as it did with the massive golden statue of the goddess Anaitis at Zela, concerning which it was believed that the first person who seized on it would be stricken to the ground by a thunderbolt.  24
  Serapis—And what happened to this statue?  25
  Quirinus—When the triumvir Antony defeated the Phœnicians at Zela, the city together with the temple of Anaitis was plundered, and nobody could say where the massive golden goddess had got to. It chanced that some years after, Augustus was passing the night at Bononia with a veteran of Antony’s. The Emperor was sumptuously entertained; and as the talk at table fell on the battle of Zela and the plundering of the temple of Anaitis, he asked his host as an eye-witness, whether it was true that the first who laid a hand on her had been suddenly stricken dead to the earth. “You see that foolhardy one before you,” replied the veteran; “and you are in fact eating off the leg of the goddess. I had the fortune to conquer her first. Anaitis is a very good sort of person, and I acknowledge gratefully that I owe to her all my wealth.”  26
  Serapis—You give me poor consolation, Quirinus. If things are going in the world as Mercury declares, I can promise my colossus at Alexandria no better fate. It is simply shocking that Jupiter can regard such outrageous things so coolly!  27
  Jupiter—You will do well, Serapis, if you can manage to do the same. You have enjoyed long enough the honor of being reverenced from East to West,—you, a mere god from the Pontus; and you certainly can’t desire that it should fare better with your temples than with mine, or that your colossus should last longer than the godlike master-work of Phidias. If we all topple over, you would not wish to be the only one who remains upright?  28
  Momus—Ho, ho, Jupiter, where have you left your renowned thunderbolt, that you take your downfall so mildly?  29
  Jupiter—If I were not what I am, I would answer you with one of them for this silly question, you noodle!  30
  Quirinus  [to Mercury]—You must tell me once more, Mercury, if I am to believe you. My flamen superseded? my temple closed? my feast no longer celebrated? and the enervated, slavish, heartless Quirites have sunk to this degree of unthankfulness towards their founder?  31
  Mercury—I should be deceiving you if I gave you any other information.  32
  Victoria—I don’t need to ask what is happening to my altar and my statue in the Julian Curia. It is so long now since the Romans have learned the art of conquest, that I find nothing more natural than that they cannot any longer endure the presence of my picture. At every glance which they throw upon it, it must be to them a reproach for their shameful degeneration. With the Romans, whose name has become a byword among the barbarians which only blood can wash away, Victoria has nothing more to do.  33
  Vesta—Under these circumstances they will certainly not allow the holy fire in my temple to burn any longer! Heavens, what will be the fate of my poor virgins!  34
  Mercury—Oh, not a hair of their heads will be touched, honored Vesta! They will be allowed to die of hunger in perfect peace.  35
  Quirinus—How times change! Once it was a shocking misfortune for the whole Roman world, if the holy fire on the altar of Vesta went out—  36
  Mercury—And now there would be more to-do made if the profane fire in some Roman cook-shop went out than if the vestals had allowed theirs to be extinguished twice a week.  37
  Quirinus—But who, then, in the future shall be the patron of war at Rome in my place?  38
  Mercury—St. Peter with his double key has assumed to himself this duty.  39
  Quirinus—St. Peter with his double key? Who is he?  40
  Mercury—I don’t know myself exactly; ask Apollo,—perhaps he can give you more points about it.  41
  Apollo—He’s a man, Quirinus, who, in his successors, shall rule half the world eight hundred years on end, although he himself was only a poor fisherman.  42
  Quirinus—What? The world will let itself be ruled by fishermen?  43
  Apollo—By a certain kind of fishermen, at least: fishers of men, who, in a very cunning kind of fish-net called decretals, shall little by little catch all the nations and princes of Europe. Their commands shall be esteemed as oracles of the gods, and a piece of sheepskin or paper sealed with St. Peter’s fisherman’s ring will have the power to seat and unseat kings.  44
  Quirinus—This St. Peter of the double key must be a mighty magician!  45
  Apollo—No less than that! As you ought to have known long ago, all the strange and wonderful things in the world occur quite naturally in this way. The avalanche which shakes down a whole village was at first a little snowball, and the flood that shatters a great ship is at its source a purling mountain spring. Why should not the successors of the Galilean fishermen in a few centuries be able to become lords of Rome, and arrange a new religion, of which they constitute themselves high priests, and with the aid of brand-new ethics and politics, which they know how to build upon it, finally be masters for a while of half the world? Didn’t you yourself herd the flocks of the King of Alba, before you made yourself the head of all the bandits in Latium, and patched together the little robbers’ nest that finally became the capital city and queen of the world? St. Peter, to be sure, in his life cut no great figure; but he shall see the time when kaisers shall hold the stirrups of his successors, and queens shall humbly kiss their feet.  46
  Quirinus—What doesn’t one go through, when one is immortal!  47
  Apollo—It needs a good deal of time, perhaps, and not a little craft also, in order to bring fishermen so far; but then the fish will be stupid enough who let themselves be caught by them.  48
  Quirinus—In the mean time, here we are all together deposed, aren’t we?  49
  Mercury—That’s the way things stand.  50
  Various Gods—Better not be immortal than experience such things!  51
  Jupiter—My dear sons, uncles, nephews, one and all! I see that you take this little revolution, which I have quietly seen coming for a long while, in a more tragic way than the affair is worth. Take your seats, if you will, and let us speak calmly and undisturbed of these things, over a glass of nectar. Everything in nature has its time. Everything changes; and so it is with the notions of men. They are always changing with their circumstances; and when we remember what a difference fifty years make between grandson and grandfather, it will not appear strange to us that the world seems to acquire within a thousand years or so, imperceptibly, an entirely new aspect. For at bottom it is only appearance: it remains, under whatever other masks and names, always the same comedy. The silly people down there have occupied themselves long enough with superstitions about us; and if some among you fancied they were advantaged by it, I must tell them that they were wrong. Mankind ought not to be envied if they finally become wiser. By heavens, it is none too soon!  52
  But that is not to be thought about for the time being. Indeed, they always flatter themselves that the last foolishness of which they get knowledge will be the last which they shall commit. The hope of better times is their eternal chimera, by which they will ever keep on deceiving themselves again and yet again; because they will never realize that not the time, but their own inborn wretched foolishness, is the reason why it will never be better with them. For it is indeed their lot to get pure enjoyment out of nothing good; and only to exchange one folly with which they have finally become weary, as children with a worn-out doll, for another with which for the most part they fare worse than they did with the former one. This time it actually seemed as if they were winners by the exchange, but I knew about it too well not to foresee that they wouldn’t get help in this way; for indeed if Wisdom herself should come down to them in person, and wish to dwell visibly among them, they would not stop bedecking her with feathers and furbelows, with baubles and bells, until they had made a fool out of her.  53
  Believe me, gods, the triumphal song which they at this moment are raising on account of the famous victory they have won over our defenseless statues, is for posterity a raven-cry foreboding ill fortune. They think to better themselves, but they may go further and fare worse. They are weary of us, they wish to have nothing more to do with us; but so much the worse for them! We don’t need them. If their priests declare us to be impure and evil spirits, and assure the simple-minded folk that our dwelling is an eternally flaming pool of sulphur, what harm does that do to you or me? What matters it to us what ideas only half-developed earth-creatures have of us, or in what relation they stand to us, or whether they smoke us with a loathsome mixture of sacrificial stink and incense, or with brimstone of hell? Neither the one nor the other rises up to us. They don’t know us, you say, now that they wish to withdraw themselves from our government. Did they know us any better when they served us? What the poor people call their religion is only their affair after all, not ours. They alone have to lose or win by it, when they direct their manner of life wisely or the reverse. And their descendants too, when they once feel the results of the unwise decrees of their Valentinians, their Gratiani, and their Theodosii, will find cause enough to rue the rash measures which have heaped together upon their dizzy heads a flood of new and unendurable evils, whereof the world, so long as it was subject to the old belief or superstition, had no conception.  54
  It would be another thing if they actually bettered themselves by this new arrangement. Who among us could or would take it evil of them? But it is just the contrary! They are like a man who in order to drive away a small trouble with which he might be able to live as long as Tithonus, endures ten others which are ten times worse. Thus, for example, they raise a great outcry against our priests, because they fed the people, that is everywhere superstitious and will ever so remain, with delusions from which the State derives just as much profit as do they themselves. Will their priests improve matters? At this moment they are founding a superstition which will avail no one but themselves, and instead of strengthening the political situation, will cast into confusion and destroy all human and civil relations; a superstition which will lie like lead in their brains, shut out every sane conception of natural and moral things, and under the color of a chimerical perfection, will poison in the bud the humanity in each and every man. When one has said the worst that can be said with truth concerning the superstition which up till now has befooled the world, one must at least concede that it was far more humane, blameless, and beneficent, than the new faith which one has put in its stead. Our priests were always more harmless people than these to whom they must now yield. Those enjoyed their station and their revenues in peace, were on good terms with every one, and attacked no man’s belief; but these are arrogant and impatient, persecute each other with the fiercest anger on account of a mere insignificant play on words, decide by a majority of votes what one must think of unthinkable things, how one must speak of unspeakable things, and reckon all who think and speak otherwise as enemies of God and man. For the priests of the gods to come into collision with the civic power or otherwise disturb the peace of the State, before they were interfered with by these raging iconoclasts, has scarcely been heard of in a thousand years; the new priesthood, on the contrary, since its party has been popular, has not ceased to throw the world into confusion. So far their pontiffs work in secret; but in a short time they will seize on the sceptres of kings, set themselves up as viceroys of God, and under this title assume a hitherto unheard-of power over heaven and earth.  55
  If it be true that our priests were (as was right) no very zealous patrons of philosophy, yet at least they were not its declared enemies; for they feared nothing from it, under the protection of the law. Least of all did they conceive of drawing the thoughts and ideas of men under their jurisdiction, or wish to hinder their currency in society. Those others, on the contrary,—who so long as they were the weaker party, made so much of having reason on their side, and in any attack from us always placed it to the fore,—since now it would only be a hindrance to them in their wider operations, say good-by to it, and will not rest until they make it all dark around them, until they take away from the people all means of enlightenment, and have condemned the free use of natural judgment as the first of all sins. Formerly, when they themselves still depended upon alms, the well-being and comfortable manner of life of our priests was an abomination to them; now that they fare with full sails, the moderate incomes of our temples, which they have made themselves masters of, are much too small to satisfy the needs of their pride and their vanity. Already now their pontiffs at Rome—through the liberality of rich and foolish matrons whose dreamy sentimentality they know very well how to use, through the most shameless legacy-hunting, and a thousand other tricks of this kind—put themselves in a position to surpass the first persons in the State in pomp, expenditure, and voluptuousness. But all these springs, although grown to streams through ever new tributaries, will not satisfy these insatiable ones: they will find a thousand ways never heard of before to levy upon the simpleness of men untutored and beguiled; even the sins of the world will they transform through their magic art to golden fountains; and to make them yield the more, they will think up a monstrous multitude of new sins, of which the Theophrastuses and the Epictetuses had never a suspicion.  56
  Wherefore do I say all this? What does it matter to us what these people do, or don’t do, and how well or ill they shall administer their new government over the sick souls of men nerveless and stunted through lust and slavery? Even the deceivers are themselves deceived: they too know not what they do; but we who see clear in all this—it befits us to treat them with forbearance as sick and insane, and in the future to show them as much kindness as their own unreason will give us opportunity. Poor unfortunates! Whom do they harm but themselves, when they of their own free will rob themselves of the beneficent influence whereby Athens has become the school of wisdom and of art, and Rome the law-bearer and regent of the earth? through which influence both cities reach a grade of culture to which not even the better descendants of these barbarians, who now have it in mind to divide among themselves the lands and riches of these effeminate Greeks and Romans, will ever be able to raise themselves again. For what shall be the fate of men from whom the Muses and Graces, philosophy, and all the beauty-breeding arts of life and of a finer enjoyment of life, together with the gods their begetters and guardians, have withdrawn themselves? I foresee at a glance all the evil that will come flooding in in the place of the good; all the unformed, the warped, the monstrous, and the misshapen, that these fanatic destroyers of beauty will pile up on the ashes and fragments of the works of genius—and I sicken at the loathsome sight. Away with it! For so sure as I am Jupiter Olympius it shall not be so forever, although centuries shall pass by before mankind reaches the deepest depths of its downfall, and still more centuries before, with our help, it shall again rear itself above the mire. The time shall come when they shall seek us again, call upon us for aid once more, and confess that without us they have no power; the time shall come, when, with unwearying labor, they shall once more draw out of the dirt, or dig up from its deep bed of mold and rubbish, every shattered or disfigured relic of the works which under our influence sprang from the soul and the hands of our darlings of art; and shall weary themselves in vain by an affected enthusiasm, to imitate those wonders of true inspiration and the very afflatus of divine power.  57
  Apollo—Surely shall it come, Jupiter, that time! I see it as if it stood before me in the full splendor of the present. Again shall they set up our images, gaze upon them astonished, with a thrill of feeling and of reverent admiration, take them as models for their idols, which in those barbaric hands had become ugly, and—oh what a triumph! their pontiffs shall be proud to build for us, under another name, the most splendid temple!  58
  Jupiter  [with a great beaker full of nectar in his hand]—Here’s to the future!  [To Minerva.]  My daughter, here’s to the time when you shall see all Europe changed into a new Athens, filled with academies and lyceums, and shall hear the voices of Philosophy from the midst of the German forest sound forth perchance freer and clearer than aforetime from the halls of Athens and Alexandria.  59
  Minerva  [shaking her head a little]—I am glad, Father Jupiter, to see you in such good courage at this present juncture; but you must pardon me if I believe as little in a new Athens as I do in a new Olympus.  60
  Quirinus  [to Mercury]—That Peter with the double key, who is to be my successor—I can’t get him out of my head, Mercury. How is it with this key? Is it actual or figurative, a natural or a magic key? Where did he get it, and what will he open with it?  61
  Mercury—All that I can tell you about it, Quirinus, is, that with this key he unlocks for whom he will the gates of heaven or of hell.  62
  Quirinus—He may unlock hell for whom he will, for all me; but heaven!—that’s another story.  63
  Mercury—In fact, they have arranged to people heaven with such a great multitude of gods of their own coinage that there won’t be any room left for us old ones.  64
  Jupiter—Let me look out for that, Hermes! Our temples and landed properties on earth they could very easily get away from us, but we have been established in Olympus too long to be supplanted. For the rest, as a proof of our perfect impartiality, we will grant to the new Romans, in spite of their insolence, the right of apotheosis under the same conditions as before. According to what I hear, most of their candidates who lay claim to this promotion are not persons of the best society. We will, therefore, with St. Peter’s permission, before we let anybody in, undertake to give him a little examination. If it turns out that in respect of his other qualifications and services he can uphold his place among us, no objection shall be made to him on account of the golden circle around his head; and Momus himself shall not reproach him with the miracles which one works with his bones or his outfit of clothes.  65
  Juno—You can do as you like about the men-persons, but I shall have the ladies forbidden.  66
  Venus—They say there are some very pretty ones among them.  67
  Jupiter—We will talk about that when the case comes up. And now—not a word more of disagreeables! A fresh beaker, Antinoüs.  68

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